From John Hennessy:
No, it’s not a period photograph, but rather an aerial view taken in 1933. It came to us today, thanks to one of our regional landscape architects, Eliot Foulds, who was poking around the National Archives and came across a collection titled “Airscapes.” This was a project of the Army Air Corps that produced low-level aerial views of important places. This image offers a view of the Fredericksburg region–one that shows the landscape beyond town virtually unchanged since the Civil War. The image includes the only comprehensive view of the south end of the battlefield we have ever seen. Beyond that, there are hundreds of details worth noting. We’ll get to just a few of them today.
The picture was taken over the Rappahannock River looking a few degrees east of south. Fredericksburg is to the right, Chatham is at lower left. There are lots of details in the view of Chatham that we’ll talk about in another post. But look beyond, to the south. If you have ever wanted a vision of what the south end of the battlefield looked like in 1862, this is likely as close as you’ll get. We have included a hi-res scan of the image at the end of this post, which you can download and explore yourself. In the meantime, here are the first things that came to our eyes. Click on other images to enlarge them.
Here is some detail on the lower crossing site. As many of you who have been there with us in the last few years know, this is now a virtually impenetrable jungle. In this view, you can see clearly why the spot was so attractive to Union engineers–a wide, flat area with an easy ascent to the surrounding bluffs.
Also in this image is the field much as Pelham saw it when he opened fire from the corner of what is today Route 2 (the historic Bowling Green Road) and Benchmark Road. Pelham’s corner is at the left edge of the photo, the postwar buildings on Slaughter Pen farm at the right edge.
One part of this landscape had changed dramatically by 1933. Here’s an enlargement of the city dock–the middle crossing site. As you can see, it was a vastly different place then, covered with tanks and other infrastructure. The tanks in this view were swept away in the flood of 1942–clearing the way (literally) for a transformation of the area (and, surely, a dramatic rise in real estate values on lower Caroline Street, today perhaps the nicest streetscape in town).
There is much more in this image, including Ferry Farm and numbers of buildings in town that are now gone and for which we have no other photographic record. It’s a boon, whether you are interested in battlefield landscapes, the changing landscape at Chatham, or the evolution of a town whose downtown was, in 1933, the shopping mecca for the entire region. We’ll be offering more about it as we get a chance.
In the meantime, go ahead and explore the image yourself (a hi-res version is included below). If you spot something interesting, shout it out in the comments. We have only had this image for a few hours, so we’re sure there is much there we’ve not yet noticed.
For those of you who were with us, here is an approximation of the ground we covered during our 2011 tour of the lower crossing site.